“Encounters with Hackett” - Steve in conversation with Ian Hall. Photographs by L. Millward, Alan Hewitt and Jo Hackett.
Something of a rarity this one, an interview with Steve in TWR which has nothing whatsoever to do with me! Ian Hall is quietly making a name for himself as a music journalist here in the North West and our thanks to him for sharing this interview with us. Over to you, Ian…
IH: Thank you for sparing some moments of your time, I know you have been so busy…
SH: It has been a bit of a mad life recently.
IH: Has the tour gone down well so far?
SH: Very well, extraordinarily well, which I am thrilled about because there has been more of an emphasis on visuals. It’s great to be doing a visual show again and it has gone down very well, particularly with non-English speaking audiences. Music is the international language so luckily people can still beat out the time even if they can’t get the phrases together, do you know what I mean? I try to say something in each language when I am in a different country. I have a smattering of each language.
IH: Obviously the audiences in Liverpool haven’t seen what happens on stage yet, but from the clips on the Internet, the excitement in the audience for the songs you have re-worked or re-imagined has been incredible.
SH: It has garnered a lot of interest. I think also, to be fair it has been better advertised than I could have possibly expected. Obviously that’s not all bought and paid for advertising; it is interest from television from around the world and all the rest. It is great and I am barely keeping up with the demands on my time at the moment but it is great to be at the centre of the maelstrom just so long as I can conduct the elements. It is an amazing time for me and I think it is for the music. It couldn’t be more positive and as far as I am concerned and I am thrilled to bits. The fact that the music survived shows that it couldn’t have just been a product of its time.
IH: If you don’t mind me saying so, the album is magnificent and one of my top three albums of last year..
SH: Thank you. When it came out I was pleased from a writer’s end of things, pleased that so many people were willing to get involved in it. From a guitarists’ point of view it was great to go back to things and tweak them and add things, so the response to it was enormous. It has been a revisit in more ways than one. A revisit, a re-vision, a re-edit. To be playing this stuff live in front of people again feels just a little bit like we did at the time. I can’t help but noticing with the kind of things that find favour at the moment with the media., I am talking about TV and TV shows. I turn on the TV and there is a show called 666 and that might have been running for a while, I can’t remember the full title of the show but it had 666 in it and with our current singer saying 666 (during the classic Supper’s Ready) it’s funny isn’t it that all these recurrent ideas get represented. It is an extraordinary time for me, I haven’t had two hours’ sleep in the last month! (laughs).
IH: Was there ever a time when you were making the record that you thought why am I tampering with the past?
SH: Well, I have personal reasons for wanting to do that, both to enlarge on the existing blueprints if you like, but also to take things a stage further; to add orchestra and change guitar parts, to add vocal detail and let people loose on it and see what they made of it and everybody turned in a very authentic Genesis performance without being asked to do so. It just goes to show how adaptable that music was. A lot of it was very gentle music but it seems to have survived a much more butch performance and the more feminine ones. It is funny how things survive, I think good writing will survive in many different interpretations and the music is the star more than any of the participants or people who wrote it in the first place, all the people who first performed it and all those that are performing it now.
IH: Well, there are some great interpretations and I am so pleased that a couple of the most underrated stars of music; Nick Beggs and Lee Pomeroy are on there. Both performances are fantastic.
SH: We have a few on there.
I H: Was it strange hearing young Simon Collins (son of Genesis drummer Phil and now part of the band Sound Of Contact) at the helm for part of the album?
S H: Well, I have worked with Simon on something of his years ago and he was returning the favour to me with his pal Dave Kerzner. There were 35 people on the album. There was a lot of file sharing and all of this done at a distance and it was quite wonderful.
I H: Were your former band mates receptive to what you had done to the
S H: I haven’t heard anything from any of them regarding it. I really don’t know what they think about it. I hope they like it.
I H: Is there a particular Genesis song that you haven’t re-imagined yet that you would still like to have a go at re-doing?
SH: Well, there were some things that we started as a band many years ago that didn’t make it on to the record and we subsequently recorded one or two of those and they have always gone down well with the audiences. I think the things that have haunted me over the years tend to have staying power. There are a couple of songs I could have done because there is an awful lot of stuff from the decades that the band were in existence and going through various incarnations, there could be all sorts of takes on this but I tried to make it a comprehensive choice of what I thought was the best and what might hang together on an album. I did my own survey over the years of what people liked and why they liked it; people would volunteer that information if I wanted them to do so or not! (laughs). Some of them would say for instance; I really love The Lamia can you do that one? And then the response to a new guitar part to Fly On A Windshield and I find lyrically that some certain songs have got staying power as well.
I don’ think it was all straight. We drove through all sorts of areas thinking we have got a pantomime, we have got comedy. I think that Vaudeville era that The Beatles did so well, so somewhere between George Formby and Chuck Berry, bit great banjo players of course, with that we are all making rhythm so there are more similarities shall we say than there are difference although culturally people are growing up in very different places from cockles and whelks to pretzels and beer. There is Americana; there is the very British thing the end of the pier thing which I like too. It all crops up in Genesis music, from Willow Farm to The Chamber of 32 Doors which is the influence of Americana. I quite like the fact that a lot of these songs are about uncertainty where most rock songs are about other things so to speak, they are not all mating rituals; they are questioning perhaps of young guys who haven’t found their way. It’s not just about girls, it is about more than that; it’s the un-nameable things.
IH: Just as an aside, I don’t think I could have heard a better version of Supper’s Ready from the original album and then you make it even better for Genesis Revisited II. It is utterly absorbing and entrancing.
SH: I am really glad you like that one. The guitar stuff on the end I did three times to try and get what finally came out on different days and I kept thinking I haven’t got the sound on this yet live. I sometimes go through it and I will reach somewhere and I will look for guitar Nirvana and all too often, its about the sound and I might be feeding back too much and what distortion unit I need and I have tried different ones live but there is just something about it and it is different every night. It just requires me to go off the map, off the rails , that trade off between what is personal and what is universal, that always concerns me with that song. The difference between indulgence and something that’s a masterpiece, there is a very fine line, isn’t there? Music is always a shot in the dark. It is always about uncertainty and the things we hold dear. I suspect the writers that did the songs in the first place probably don’t hold these things dear at all. The audience is the true owner of the songs, they understand more than we performers ever do, we are always thinking; is this out of tune? Over blown and under the board but for someone who is receiving it, all those who are hearing it and enjoying it, it will be saying wasn’t that marvellous? I think it is like that with a lot of big bands, they are torn between it. I would like to be in the audience’s position. I have never seen this show all the way through. I can’t watch it all the way through unless I watch it on film.
The first British tour is basically a sell-out and as a result of that we put in extra shows later in the year. In Liverpool’s case it is the 29th October at the Philharmonic Hall so I am looking forward to both dates enormously. I think as a show it is like a ride at Disneyland in a sense. Ian Holmes who has put the visuals together has done a superb job with some very broad strokes from myself and my wife, Jo and I am absolutely thrilled that we are presenting this stuff in a vast gilded train.
Our thanks to Steve for giving Ian so much of his time at what is obviously
a very busy time for him, and of course, to Ian himself for sharing this interview
with us here at TWR. You can also catch up with more of Ian’s work at…